Getting Ripped: “The Opposite of Common Sense” Series, Part II — Lifting More = Bad


Do not lift more weights, do more exercises, do more sets, or spend more time lifting

Lots of people think that getting ripped means doing lots of reps for lots of sets of lots of exercises. High reps for definition, right? That line of thinking seems common sense, but is totally wrong. Definition is the result of low body fat and a base of solid muscle. During a cut, the goal is to force the body to retain muscle and burn fat. I explained in yesterday’s post in this series that heavy weightlifting forces the body to switch its fuel source from muscle to fat when in a caloric deficit; it’s a new stimulus telling it to spare muscle because it’s critically needed for something. The most effective way to stimulate a muscle is to fully fatigue its fast twitch fibers, which are heavily recruited during acutely intense activities (like sprinting and heavy weight lifting), as opposed to slow-twitch fibers, which are recruited more heavily during endurance activities (marathon running, biking, tennis, walking, brushing teeth, etc). To make it simple, the heavier the weight, the more quickly all fibers of the muscle become fatigued assuming that proper form and loading is used. The general guideline for the big compound lifts is that the weight should be heavy enough that you can push out between five and eight repetitions per set with proper rest intervals (anywhere between 90 seconds and five minutes between sets depending on the lift). Generally, I find that lifting elicits the best gains when I’m struggling on my last repetition of each set somewhere in that range. But in a caloric deficit you have less energy to lift and your body’s capacity to heal itself is reduced, so something has to give. The smartest thing to do is to reduce lifting volume. When I’m cutting, I reduce sets down to just three per exercise for a total of only 12-15 sets. To some people, that might sound like not much, but it’s absolutely plenty for retaining muscle. Novices/ untrained individuals/ people coming off a layoff will usually even gain muscle while while cutting using very heavy weights and fewer sets. There is, of course, a caveat: every single set really has to count toward creating as much fatigue (trauma) in the muscle as possible. This means lifting hard and smart. Hard means that near maximum effort is put into every rep with great form. Smart means that you only use the big compound lifts (all types of barbell squats, all types of deadlifts, all types of barbell presses-bench and overhead, all types of barbell and cable pulls, but no bullsh*t isolation moves) and you stop the exercise after three sets even if you’re feeling like you can go for more. The problem with going for more is that you can end up creating more trauma to the muscle–normally a good thing when in an energy surplus–than the body can handle and repair when in a caloric deficit. So you end up breaking your muscles down at a greater rate than that at which they’re being repaired, and that means muscle loss. Clearly, that’s antithetical to our goals.

To summarize yesterday’s Part I post and this current post, to get ripped, eliminate structured cardio from your exercise diet and perform a limited number of sets (like three) of a limited number of COMPOUND lifts (like five max) using a weight you cant push for more than eight reps with great form. Part III coming soon (it has something to do with carbs).

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