For anyone aspiring to be a serious lifter, the shred is a rite of passage.
It’s the culmination of a winter of living in hoodies, heavy squats and plethoras of protein shakes to ensure you’re always in a caloric surplus.
As a gym junkie, it’s your endgame, and your coronation as squat rack royalty. It’s what defines the serious lifters from the weekend warriors, the dirty bulkers from the disciplined.
Forget ultramarathons or Ninja Warrior, the cut is one of the hardest fitness challenges you’ll undertake (but also one of the most rewarding). As you embark on your journey to that promised land of lean, your resilience, dedication and ability to back away from the Burger King will be tested.
The road to ripped is also fraught with crash diets, risks of overtraining and many other forks in your fitness journey that you’ll need to navigate. Despite what those midnight infomercials for shake weights and flex belts claim, getting ripped is not easy, and it won’t happen fast.
To make sure you’re not repeating the same mistakes other lifters make when trying to transform your abs from AWOL to washboard, we’ve enlisted Ryderwear athlete Zac Smith to share his five cutting commandments, and help you master the art of the shred.
‘Shredding is the second phase of any bodybuilding cycle’ says Zac, ‘I shred to make sure I’m looking lean, hard and defined, so I’m ready for things like video shoots and competitions, to look the best I possibly can’. While getting shredded ultimately comes down to calories in versus calories out, the reality is more complex than that. Unsustainable, unhealthy shredding caused by excessive training or severely limited calories can lead to serious muscle loss, nutritional deficiencies and metabolic damage. We know you don’t want to sacrifice your gains, which is why it’s important that your shred is designed to preserve as much of that hard earned muscle as possible, while burning fat.
I. Embrace Cardio
‘When you’re shredding, cardiovascular exercise is the first thing you should look to do more of’. You can’t flex cardio, but it’s a necessary evil if you’re wanting to burn more calories, in addition to having a heap of health benefits like lowering blood pressure, reducing chronic pain and strengthening your immune system. When trying to get shredded, HIIT AND LISS are the two types of cardio most often used by lifters.
HIIT: Short for High-Intensity Interval Training, HIIT is a form of cardio involving intervals of all-out exercise, usually performed at 80 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate, for anywhere from five seconds to eight minutes. The work intervals are alternated with periods of complete rest or active recovery performed at 40 to 50 percent of your MHR. HIIT can be anything from sprinting or cycling, and is beneficial for balancing athletic performance with aesthetics. HIIT offers a faster, more efficient cardio workout, training both the aerobic and anaerobic system, while also burning more calories after the session is complete. However HIIT workouts also pose a greater risk of injury, will slow down your recovery and are more taxing on your CNS and muscular system.
LISS: Short for Low-Intensity Steady State, LISS is most commonly associated with images of old-school lifting legends like Kai Greene pounding the pavement or sweating on the stairmaster for hours. LISS involves training at a constant, steady pace for between 30-60 minutes, often within a target heart rate zone of between 50-65% of max. Since the days of Arnie and Muscle Beach, LISS has been the preferred cardio method for classic bodybuilders, as it’s easier on your joints and ligaments, and tends to use a greater percentage of stored body fat for energy, rather than muscle glycogen. However LISS sessions are often long, monotonous and grueling, with fewer calories expended after the exercise session is finished. With many lifters also performing LISS fasted first thing in the morning, it poses a greater risk of muscle protein breakdown.
Ultimately both HIIT and LISS offer similar benefits, and lifters should choose based on their personal preferences, time constraints, fitness goals and equipment!
II. Track Your Nutrition
When embarking on a cut, tracking your nutrition is vital, not only to ensure you’re in a calorie deficit, but to make sure you’re still hitting your macros, so you can preserve as much muscle as possible. ‘On the first ever shred I did, I lost so much muscle mass because I restricted my calories so low, in order to get shredded quickly’ said Zac. ‘Keep your protein really high if you’re going to restrict your carbohydrates, otherwise you’ll feel flat and look depleted’. Zac recommends using tracking apps like My Fitness Pal, while also taking advantage of the macro-friendly recipes and nutrition articles on the Ryderwear website.
Protein Waffles Recipe
Chocolate Coconut Protein Balls Recipe
Pork Lettuce Cups Recipe
III. Cycle Your Carbs
Opt for slow digesting carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, brown rice and oatmeal, however make sure you consume around 20 grams of a more fast-digesting carb source before your workout, to power you through your training without having to sacrifice intensity.
For Zac, carb cycling is one of the best ways to change his body composition while shredding. While it sounds complex, carb cycling simply means changing your daily carbohydrate intake based on your body’s needs, structuring your higher carb days around your hardest workouts. For Zac, back day and leg day will typically be higher in carbs than arm day or rest day. After all, heavy squats require a lot more carbs than scrolling the ‘gram. Just remember to always keep your protein intake high to spare muscle tissue.
IV. Supersets and Dropsets
‘Supersets and dropsets are the first change I make to my workout when I move into a shredding phase’ says Zac. While bulking season is for breaking PB’s and pushing past plateaus, getting shredded is about preserving as much muscle as possible, as the calorie deficit will undoubtedly affect your strength, recovery and training intensity.
Supersets involve performing two exercises for opposing muscle groups back to back, such as chest and back or biceps and triceps. Drop sets involve immediately progressing from a heavier load to a lighter load of the same exercise, in order to exhaust both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibres. These multiple sets and multiple loads will get your heart rate up higher to burn more calories, but also increase your time under tension and training density, helping you conserve your hard-earned gains.
V. Don’t Forget the Free Weights
While it might be tempting to desert the dumbbells in favor of machines and cables, compound movements are still king during a shred. The more muscle fibres you stimulate during a movement, the calories you’ll burn and more muscle you’ll retain. While adding in isolation exercises for supersets and drop sets is beneficial, exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press should remain the foundation of your program.
While you might be used to spending your time between sets wandering down Instagram rabbit holes and browsing bodybuilding forums, try and limit rest periods to 30-45 seconds when shredding. You may not be as strong as usual heading into your next set, but the added calorie burn aligns better with your physique goals.
The Compound Kings
Barbell Bench Press
Barbell Back Squat
Bent Over Barbell Row