Have you ever tried packing on muscle mass and losing body fat at the same time? If so, then you probably didn’t see much progress for either one of those goals.
You spend months or even years attempting the impossible with absolutely nothing to show for it.
To really get shredded, you need to cut and you need to do it right — so, stay tuned as we go over exactly how you can do that (and for how long).
Table of Contents
- What is Cutting?
- 5 Quick Cutting Tips for Getting Shredded
- Switching to Bulking
- Listening to Your Body
- How Fast Can I Cut?
- How Much Can You Cut In a Month?
- How Long Should You Cut For?
What is Cutting?
Cutting and bulking go hand-in-hand. That means you need to bounce back and forth between these two phases with a bit of strategy.
It’s very rare that you’ll be successful if you’re trying to cut and bulk at the same time.
But let’s focus on cutting.
The goal of cutting is to chip away at the body fat that your hard-earned muscles are hiding behind. After all, there’s nothing more disappointing than being able to deadlift 500 pounds while looking like you’ve never stepped foot in the gym.
So, how exactly does “cutting” happen?
In most cases, you’ll be spending a lot more time on the cardio equipment than you’ll be spending on the squat rack. You should also expect to be cutting down on the number of calories you’re eating each day.
5 Quick Cutting Tips for Getting Shredded
1. Cut Down on Your Daily Calories
The biggest misconception about cutting is that you can starve yourself to lose weight quicker.
The issue with this concept is that the weight you’re losing isn’t going to be body fat. After a while, a body low on fuel will begin burning muscle mass instead.
So, you might actually be losing mass instead of making it more defined.
The goal of cutting is to lose about a pound or two per week. That means you should start out by cutting about 500 calories a day from your diet.
Theoretically, this should help you to burn a pound of body fat every week.
2. Add Some Cardio
You don’t really have to do cardio when you’re cutting. But if you started cutting late in the season, then you might want to add cardio to your current routine to speed up the results.
Here are some of the best cardio exercises for burning calories, and fast!
- Jumping Rope
The exact number of calories you burn with cardio will depend on your current weight, length of the workout, and a few other factors.
But some types of cardio can help you to burn over 400 calories in just 30 short minutes. So make sure you’re focusing on longer cardio sessions rather than speedwork to boost your metabolism and calorie burning.
3. Give Yourself Time to Cut
The most disappointing part of fitness is that nothing happens overnight. You know how long it takes to set new PRs on the major lifts, gain an inch on your biceps, and even lose 5 pounds.
Doing cardio and eating less for a week just isn’t going to do it.
Since cutting usually takes 2 to 4 months, you’re going to want to plan your cutting phase appropriately. Most serious athletes will start cutting around summer so that they have the perfect summer body.
You can then return to bulking once fall and winter hit.
4. Boost Your Metabolism
Cutting takes a lot of work and can be painstaking as you fight that unfulfilled appetite every single day.
In addition to eating less and burning calories through cardio, you might also want to work on naturally boosting your metabolism. This will help your body to burn more calories naturally without any extra work from you.
You can do this by….
- Adding caffeine to your diet (coffee, tea, healthy energy drinks, etc.)
- Doing HITT workouts to burn calories well after you leave the gym
- Making sure you’re getting around 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night
- Drinking enough water, and drinking more if you’re really active
These won’t help you to lose an extra 5 pounds a month, but they can help to speed up the whole cutting process.
5. Don’t Shift to High Reps
A lot of people assume that you want to do more reps when you’re cutting. After all, there’s a belief that high reps will help you to burn fat, which is exactly what you’re looking to do.
The problem is you’re not working your muscles enough with low weights.
So when you’re actively cutting and hitting the gym, be sure to focus on lower reps at high weights in order to keep your muscles moving. This will also help to keep your power and strength as you lose weight.
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Switching to Bulking
You can only cut for so long. After a while, there’s not much body fat to burn and you’re not giving yourself the chance to continue putting on muscle mass.
That’s why you want to plan a transition to bulking.
Emphasis on the word “transition.”
You don’t want to suddenly go from eating 1,500 calories a day to close to 3,000. This is a surefire way to guarantee that you’ll pack on a ton of weight in the form of muscle and fat.
That’s more you have to cut later on.
So, give yourself several days or even a few weeks to work back up to the calorie range you usually eat when you’re bulking.
This phase in which you transition from cutting to bulking is only necessary when coming off a lengthy cut that lasts 2-4 months.
For a mini-cut micro cycle lasting 4-6 weeks inside of a bulking macro cycle, it’s not necessary to transition back into the bulk since the goal of a mini-cut is to shave off only a few lbs while still keeping the bulk efficient.
Listening to Your Body
You desperately want to look shredded and you’re doing anything to make that happen. But there’s a point at which you might actually be doing more harm than good.
Here’s what might happen if you cut for too long or don’t cut right.
- Excessive loss of bodyweight
- Low energy levels
- Overworked muscles due to consistent cardio
Each of these concerns can set your goals back even further and possibly even cause serious injury. That’s why you want to listen to your body and be sure to cut back at the gym or add more calories during the day to relieve these discomforts.
If you notice your gains are fading, switch back to bulking sooner. Don’t wait for the 2 to 4 months to be over.
How Fast Can I Cut?
How fast can you cut? Or how fast should you cut?
Anyone who’s toyed with keto or hopped on the HIIT bandwagon knows that healthy cutting can be painfully slow. So slow, in fact, that the CDC caps healthy, sustainable weight loss at about 1–2 pounds per week or up to 1% of your current body weight.
But even that might be too drastic.
That, according to a randomized controlled trial published in 2011. Researchers for this study recruited 24 elite athletes and divided them into two groups:
- A slow-reduction group that’d lose 0.7% body weight per week across ~8.5 weeks
- A fast-reduction group dropping 1.4% body weight weekly for ~5.3 weeks
All participating athletes followed their typical training schedules plus another four days per week of hypertrophy-focused training. The only differences between the two groups were the predetermined calorie reductions designed to match the weight loss goals.
At the end of the trial period, researchers compared the body weights, 1RMs, 40-meter sprint times, body composition, and jumps pre and post-study.
Both the fast and slow-reduction groups lost a similar amount of weight (5.6% vs. 5.5%) by the end, though the fast-reduction group hit the milestone approximately 3.2 weeks sooner.
But here’s how the groups compared in the remaining categories:
|Tested||Slow-Reduction Group||Fast-Reduction Group|
|Lean Body Mass||+2.1%||-0.2%|
|Bench Press 1RM||+13.6%||+6.4%|
Though the fat loss came slower, a 0.7% dip in body weight each week triggered more fat loss and increased 1RMs and lean body mass, all without an unsustainable calorie cut.
The key takeaways: a slower cut can help you maintain steady progress in the gym, avoid falling into unhealthy crash diets, and keep energy levels somewhat consistent.
How Much Can You Cut In a Month?
That answer depends on two things: the caloric deficit you’re willing to create every week and whether your eyes are on cutting body weight or body fat.
We already mentioned that 1–2 pounds of weight loss per week is considered “healthy” in the opinion of most reputable health outlets. And since a pound of fat has about 3,500 calories, you’ll need a 3,500–7,000-calorie deficit each week to conquer that weekly goal.
That averages out to a 500–1,000-calorie deficit per day — between diet, exercise, or a combination of the two — and 4–8 pounds shed per month.
So then why do some people lose 5, 10, 15 pounds or more in a single week?
The most common explanation is that not all weight loss comes from burned body fat. So it’s not unusual to lose five pounds or more seemingly overnight in the early days of a cut.
However, that’s likely a combination of burned fat, lost water weight, and … releasing the Kraken a bit more often.
Experts estimate up to 70% of weight loss during week one is pure water. That’s because the reduction in carbs and calories forces the body to tap into its glycogen stores, which are also rich in water and combined with glucose for energy.
In reality, you could lose far more than eight pounds on a month-long cut. But unless your metabolism truly goes berserk, the true fat loss will be closer to that 4–8-pound range.
The rest is likely water weight.
How Long Should You Cut For?
Most cutting phases will last about 2 to 4 months. But you want to make sure that you’re cutting in a healthy way and not trying to cut corners when it comes to your health.
That means reducing your calories about 500 calories a day, adding cardio to your current weightlifting routine, and not trying to rush the process. Cutting for too long or too quickly can cause serious harm to your body and might actually reduce your muscle mass.
It’s okay to end your cutting phase early or to extend it as you please. Just keep a close eye on your body to see how it’s reacting to your routine.
Looking for a cutting program to finally see that elusive six-pack? Check out our review of the popular Kinobody Warrior Shredding Program and get on the fast track to a leaner, more defined body.
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