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But even those with experience could likely add a few things to their training to take them to that next level. Balancing diet and training is still something of a mystery, even for the very best. Since science is not able to keep up with perseverance to push the body beyond its limits, our best efforts to combine good information with practice is all we’ve got. So, with that in mind, I’m not going to try to overscience you; rather, I’ll provide you with some thoughts and intuition that should provoke your competitive juices to find your perfect point of attack.

Whether you’re looking to get some difficult muscles to pop or trying to shred every last ounce of fat so your glutes resemble a piece of corrugated steel pipe, dialing in your diet and dialing up your training is a must. But before we delve into the training— and rather than explore the ritualistic approach of pretending bland dry food is exciting— let’s discuss some of the things that help create the chiseled appearance so highly desired by today’s iron warrior.


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The human body is a complex system that continually attempts to right itself and maintain homeostasis (a fancy term for staying stable). It generally takes 72 hours—yes, that’s three days— to return to normalcy. And while certain actions will cause the body to do some very cool things, including make you vascular, ripped, and huge, those effects are generally short-lived until the body is able to regain control. 

So while what you do today may be felt immediately, the lasting effects will show up a few days later. If you slowly turn up or turn down the volume, be it with food, liquid, or training, your body will respond as if it were completely normal, since any abrupt change would be much smaller than if you did something drastic.

This is true with both losing and gaining weight, and losing and gaining muscle size. For getting shredded, this is especially important to understand, as you can’t possibly gauge your success daily. You need to be patient. If you begin your cutting phase further out at a slower pace, your body will hold its shape and size, while reducing the stuf you don’t want, like fat and excess water.

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Since being ripped is all about the visual—and, no doubt, like me, you’re constantly checking yourself out in the mirror then grabbing your skin to check fat and water—it’s important to understand that auto regulation is occurring. And while that maybe frustrating, it’s somewhat predictable. When shredding up, don’t expect the miracle to happen immediately; but over a period of a few days or even weeks, you should see some sizable gains in muscle while improving your definition.

Properly dialing in your diet, slowly cutting water, and following this program designed to build and maintain muscle while upping the calorie burn will help you achieve that rock-solid, ripped physique.


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Possibly the hardest thing for anyone to do is to become ultra dry like the Sahara without becoming sinewy like beef jerky. Strategies to deplete, replete, load, and deload have been employed for decades, but timing has often been the culprit of the flawless-turned-flat physique.

Rather than sucking in gallons of water every day and trying to rapidly remove it a day or two before competition, consider trying to remove water over weeks, not days. While it’s not a perfect science, when slowly dropping of your water intake, your body will normalize itself by keeping muscles full and veins pumping. Your vascularity will have you providing Google Maps with updates while your bazookas, wheels, boulders, wings, and pecs will look as though you’ve been stuffing them with steel.

A brief understanding of how the body reacts to water may not only shed some light, but also shred some fat. The process of fluid balance has to do with a pretty cool system known as the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, which is directly responsible for maintaining sodium and potassium levels and controlling your anti-diuretic hormone.

Contrary to popular belief, taking in more salt (sodium, whatever) doesn’t cause water retention—unless your body needs it. You store water both in the cells (intracellular) and out of the cells (extracellular). Fluid transfer back and forth across the cells has to do with pressures and concentrations in response to sodium, potassium, and fluid levels. If anything is out of whack, the body will compensate.

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If you’re very low on water and consume salt, the difference in pressure and volume between muscle and skin will cause water to be held up. If timed properly (a sodium load for example), the sodium and water will rush into the muscle and fill it. Sometime thereafter it will adjust, pouring out of the muscles and filling in the open spaces.

Interestingly (and unbeknownst to most), if you’re properly hydrated, you could actually eat a ton of salt and not hold any additional water. Why? The aldosterone part of this balancing system will ensure that the salt is removed, sent to your kidneys, and filtered out in your urine. If you consume more water than you should, your body has to continually reset itself and determine where to put water. Thus, the need to keep salt intake low when consuming large volumes of liquid becomes important—and boring, as food tastes better with salt.


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As you begin to lean out, your body needs less water than it did before. If you lean out slowly, and slowly decrease the water you take in, your body will slowly compensate, making you need less water overall.

When you deplete extracellular water very quickly, you pull intracellular water along with it, flattening out your muscles as you likely aren’t taking in liquid against your losses. Over time, the body will figure it out though and replenish the missing stores.

If trying to time stage appearance, you really need to know your body, as this is tricky physiology. Thus, if your timing is off, not only do you look flat, you look small and soft. If you can time this perfectly, you’ll look like a fine, chiseled diamond.

So when you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, although you’re doing everything correctly in your mind, your body is saying otherwise, and you continue to look flat or bloated or soft. Of course, your mind is telling you to cut more and work harder, when in fact quite the opposite should be done.

In reality, your body is trying to retain everything it can and keep a normal fluid balance between intracellular and extracellular space, so if you cut water quickly, it’s pulled from the muscle into the open space. And this is one reason why you continue to lose muscle mass as you get closer to competition.

By slowly reducing your water intake over time, your body adjusts the amount of water needed between cells and allows the muscles to hold on to more of it. Then when it comes time to deplete, the amount of exchange is small and easy to manage; and even if it’s mis-timed, it shouldn’t pose a major problem with your physique.

Check out the suggested water-reduction plan to the right. You drop 6–12 oz of water each day from your normal water load and stay at that new lower level for a full week, before taking your next drop.


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Many shred programs do just that. They shred you up to almost nothing salvageable by not only leaning you out but also stripping you of your hard-earned muscle. Simply dialing up your intensity and speeding up your pace will give your body a lesson in catabolism.

Fat burning, despite popular belief, is more than just lowering calorie count and driving up calories burned. By continually stripping, your body begins to panic and then it conserves. It begins to find other sources of energy and holds on to fat. The result is that you become skinny fat. Now, most of you probably don’t have that problem, but you’ve seen those people and the analogy does fit. To prevent muscle loss, you need to maintain enough calories and continue to lift hard.

A good shredder program, like this one, challenges you to build muscle through strength moves at strength loads, sets, and reps. The burn side of the cycle works on speeding up the pace and the volume to help torch your fat, get a great pump, and maintain your size by alternating sessions between light- and heavy-loading phases. Then, to ensure that you become lean and hard, the program alternates between low-threshold true fat-burning endurance sessions and high intensity cardio killers.

Rather than trying to do everything in a single session, or thwarting your own progress by cannibalizing every set with cardio in between, you address each component on its own and allow for good, solid recovery between exercise sessions. Now, I’m not suggesting that a fast-paced, intermittent weightcardio session is bad, I’m simply providing an alternative method for pushing the body hard and refining your physique.


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Slow and low or high and fast? Sounds like a debate you’d find at a barbecue cook-off! But it’s been a controversial question over the past decade or two, as each method has proven successful for various people.

Some of the elite will swear that cardio is way overrated—I’m one of those (not elite, but of the opinion that cardio is overrated). Others will suggest it’s as essential as the meals you eat. Truth is, we’re uncertain of which is actually better, even though both are very well understood in terms of science.

The basic science suggests that low-threshold training is the true mechanism for fat burning. That’s substantiated by the term “aerobic” and the fact that fat burns in the presence of oxygen, which only makes it to the exercising muscle when the intensity is sufficiently managed. Great news—except that, while fat is the primary source of fuel, the overall calorie burn is far less per minute of work.

Which means, for high-calorie burning at low threshold, you’d better be prepared to make a long and boring commitment.

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On the other side, the anaerobic method proves its calorie per minute worthiness by the fact that higher-intensity exercise requires faster and more forceful contractions, meaning that energy is used more rapidly. However, the fuel from which this energy is derived isn’t sourced from fat phosphagens, as it can’t burn well without that oxygen in the muscle. Instead, it’s delivered by sugars and in a non-aerobic environment. And so the debate argues whether it’s better to burn fat or burn calories. The best answer, of course, is…both.

But, for most of us, this just simply doesn’t happen.

For those who like that feel of sweating profusely, go for it, but be aware that overdoing highintensity cardio will compete against your strength and size gains. For those who want to strip the fat, go low and slow, but be aware that you can’t meet the calorie demand of a slice of cheesecake through low intensity exercise unless you’re prepared to spend several hours walking it off.

Rather than ascribing to a single method, I suggest using both. For high-intensity cardio, do 20–30 minutes of interval training with 15–30-second bouts of all-out energy followed by 30 seconds to a minute of either rest or very low intensity exercise.

For the low- and slow-fatburning routine, do 30–45 minutes at no more than 60% of your heart-rate max—which means a sub-140 bpm heart rate (and for those in your late 30s and beyond, stay below 130, even 120). Choose your favorite cardio device and alternate each day in opposition to your weights—so, low intensity on the heavystrength days and high intensity on the lighter-volume days.

And for best results, do your cardio at a different time from your workout.


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Obviously, any shredder program needs a diet to match. Of course, to completely build out your diet within this article is a bit of an impossibility, but suffice it to say, keep to lean proteins, enjoy fibrous veggies in excess, don’t eat fast sugars later in the day, and avoid anything that tastes good. Okay, maybe not that extreme.

One thing I always suggest—again, contrary to the larger thought stream—is to keep carbohydrate sources high rather than low. I’ve heard of people doing fewer than 60 grams of carbs a day. I surpass that in breakfast alone. Your body needs the fuel. Your mind needs the energy. Your sanity needs the sugar rush. When your body is starved of it, it will try to store what you give it. Instead, keep carb sources up, and your body will learn to process them properly.

Of course, it’s not that easy. First, don’t go crazy. Second, keep fast-sugar consumption to a minimum, except around your workouts or in the morning. And third, complement your meals with carbs—don’t sit down to a carb-only snack unless it’s less than 100 calories.

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But dialing in your tolerance, and determining how many calories you need daily, is not a one-size-fits-all equation. In fact, most people underdo their calories, which is why their energy levels drop and muscle mass dwindles. If you’re new to the cutting game, practice cycling your calories and food well out from competition to better understand how your body will react.


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The program alternates between high and low intensity with both the weights and the cardio. If possible, you want to perform cardio at a separate time; but if you have to do them together, start your training sessions with the weights.

Use a strength-training regime for the heavy days, performing sets of no more than 8 reps, and provide plenty of rest between those sets. On the volume oriented, faster-paced days, stick to 12-rep sets and keep your rest at less than 90 seconds. If you substitute exercises, make sure to cover all the angles when it comes to pushing and pulling. In other words, don’t do a barbell bench, machine bench, and dumbbell bench. Instead, mix it up as our program does.

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Alternating your training stimulus has been shown to provide a balanced approach to building both strength and size or strength and speed. If we apply that science to getting cut, in theory, it should work. But like all great ideas, and whether there’s good science or not, my quest to define the art in the science ensures this program will help you as it has been put to the ultimate test—practice.

Make sure you hit your strength training hard and provide enough time to get the rest you need. Then make sure not to skimp on volume on your so-called lighter days. They’re not easier, they just use lighter weights—don’t confuse the two. Be sure to alternate days of strength and volume, and if you need to adjust the program, at least stay on the alternating workouts.


DAY 1: Heavy chest, shoulders, triceps, low-slow cardio

DAY 2: Light back, biceps, traps, HIIT cardio

DAY 3: Heavy legs, low-slow cardio

DAY 4: Light chest, shoulders, triceps, HIIT cardio

DAY 5: Heavy back, traps, biceps, low-slow cardio

DAY 6: Light legs, HIIT cardio

DAY 7: Rest

Click "Next Page" for the detailed, full-body training routine >>


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The best way to get shredded is to not let your body get too far away from your competition physique. For those not competing, that still holds true. Don’t let yourself get fat. But when you’re looking to chisel out an award-winning physique and can give yourself a full month or more, hit this program hard and ride the road to riptitude. – FLEX


(Warmup) FLAT BARBELL BENCH PRESS: 2 sets; 10, 6 reps; 120 sec. rest

FLAT BARBELL BENCH PRESS: 5 sets; 8, 6, 5, 5, 5 reps; 120 sec. rest

INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS: 4 sets; 8, 6, 6, 5 reps, 240-300 sec. rest

CABLE CROSSOVER: 4 sets; 8, 8, 6, 6 reps; 120-150 sec. rest

BARBELL SHOULDER PRESS: 5 sets; 8, 6, 5, 5, 5, reps; 180 rec. rest

WEIGHTED DIP: 4 sets; 8, 6, 6, 5 reps; 120-150 sec. rest

DUMBBELL FRONT RAISE: 4 sets; 8, 8, 6, 6 reps; 120-150 sec. rest

DUMBBELL LATERAL RAISE: 4 sets; 8, 8, 6, 6 reps; 120-150 sec. rest

TRICEPS PUSHDOWN: 4 sets; 8 reps; 120-150 sec. rest

LOW-SLOW CARDIO: 30 minutes


(Warmup) WIDE-GRIP LAT PULLDOWN: 4 sets; 12 reps; 75-90 sec. rest

WIDE-GRIP LAT PULLDOWN: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest

NEUTRAL-GRIP PULLDOWN: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest

ONE-ARM DUMBBELL ROW: 4 sets; 12 reps; 75-90 sec. rest

STRAIGHT-ARM PULLDOWN: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest

DUMBBELL SHRUG: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest

BENTOVER LATERAL RAISE: 4 sets; 12 reps; 75-90 sec. rest

BARBELL CURL: 4 sets; 12 reps; 75-90 sec. rest

PREACHER CURL: 4 sets; 12 reps; 75-90 sec. rest

SEATED ALTERNATING DUMBBELL CURL: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest

HIIT CARDIO: 20 minutes


(Warmup) SQUAT: 2 sets; 10, 6 reps; 120 sec. rest

SQUAT: 5 sets; 8, 6, 5, 5, 5 reps, 240-300 sec. rest

HACK SQUAT: 4 sets; 8, 6, 6, 5 reps; 180-240 sec. rest

LEG PRESS: 4 sets; 8, 8, 6, 6 reps; 120-150 sec. rest

STIFF-LEG-DEADLIFT: 4 sets; 8, 8, 6, 6 reps; 120-150 sec. rest

LEG EXTENSION: 5 sets; 8, 6, 5, 5, 5 reps, 180 sec. rest

LEG CURL: 4 sets; 8, 8, 6, 6 reps; 120-150 sec. rest

STANDING CALF RAISE: 4 sets; 8, 8, 6, 6 reps; 120-150 sec. rest

DECLINE WEIGHTED SITUP: 4 sets; 8 reps; 120-150 sec. rest

HANGING LEG RAISE: 4 sets; 12 reps; 120 sec. rest

LOW-SLOW CARDIO: 30 minutes


(Warmup) FLAT DUMBBELL PRESS: 2 sets; 10, 6 reps; 120 sec. rest

FLAT DUMBBELL PRESS: 4 sets; 12 reps; 75-90 sec. rest

INCLINE BARBELL PRESS: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest 

INCLINE DUMBBELL FLYE: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest 

DUMBBELL PRESS: 4 sets; 12 reps; 75-90 sec. rest 

CABLE LATERAL RAISE: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest 

CABLE FRONT RAISE: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest 

SKULL CRUSHER: 4 sets; 12 reps; 75-90 sec. rest 

TRICEPS ROPE PUSHDOWN: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest 

HIIT CARDIO: 20 minutes


(Warmup) BENTOVER ROW: 2 sets; 10, 6 reps; 120 sec. rest

BENTOVER ROW: 5 sets; 8, 6, 5, 5, 5; 240-300 sec. rest

CHINUP (palms facing in): 4 sets; 8, 6, 6, 5; 180-240 sec. rest

LAT PULLDOWN: 4 sets; 8, 8, 6, 6; 120-150 sec. rest

SEATED CABLE ROW: 4 sets; 8, 8, 6, 6; 120-150 sec. rest

T-BAR ROW: 5 sets; 8, 6, 5, 5, 5; 180 sec. rest

BENTOVER LATERAL RAISE: 4 sets; 8, 8, 6, 6; 120-150 sec. rest

BARBELL CURL: 4 sets; 8, 8, 6, 6; 120-150 sec. rest

PREACHER CURL: 4 sets; 8; 120-150 sec. rest

LOW-SLOW CARDIO: 30 minutes


(Warmup) SQUAT: 2 sets; 10, 6 reps; 120 sec. rest

SQUAT: 4 sets; 12 reps; 75-90 sec. rest

STEPUP WITH DUMBBELL: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest

SMITH MACHINE LUNGE: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest

LEG PRESS: 4 sets; 12 reps; 75-90 sec. rest

LEG EXTENSION: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest

LEG CURL: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest

STANDING CALF RAISE: 4 sets; 12 reps; 75-90 sec. rest

ROPE CRUNCH: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest

DECLINE SITUP: 4 sets; 12 reps; 60-75 sec. rest

HIIT CARDIO: 20 minutes (if too burnt, do cardio on off day