"Been there, done that" may explain your attitude toward not-so-new endeavors like movie reruns and mohawk haircuts, but few of us have ever "been there, done that" when it comes to achieving single-digit body fat levels. Dropping fat to stage-ready percentages is no easy feat, and a hardcore cut usually ends up burning as much motivation and strength as it does fat.
Fortunately, we can learn from successful people. We asked eight MuscleTech athletes for their best fat-loss tips and strategies and came back with these 17 gems. Incorporate this training and nutrition advice into your own get-shredded efforts and build a winning formula for getting absolutely ripped!
1. DON'T DITCH THE HEAVY WEIGHTS
A number of athletes told us that they don't abandon heavy free-weight workouts when trying to get cut. "I've lifted weights for over 10 years," says Louisville personal trainer Lindsay Cappotelli, "and I've found that heavy weights lifted for 5-8 reps with a focus on big lifts like the squat, deadlift, and bench press has worked best for me. You always hear, 'Train with light weights for high reps to burn fat,' but I've found the opposite to be true."
Actor and fitness model James Joseph Pulido agrees: "I believe in going heavy when you can as [often] as possible [while on a fat-loss program]."
2. USE SUPERSETS FOR SUPERIOR RESULTS
Resistance training clearly plays a role in fat loss, but you're better off ditching the straight-sets approach. One aspect of training that many competitors change when cutting is how they arrange their workouts. "I find incorporating circuits, dropsets, and supersets really does the trick for me," says Canadian Nick Opydo. "Keeping your heart rate high and taking shorter breaks is essential when trying to shed fat."
"I'm a big fan of supersetting exercises for opposing muscle groups with short rest periods to keep the intensity high," adds Cappotelli.
Texas trainer Jesse Hobbs concurs: "When trying to lean down and bring out definition, I recommend high-volume supersets. At the end of every rep, you can also pulsate the final movement for 5-6 pumps."
When cutting fat, Phoenix businessman and fitness model Dave Dreas also relies on supersets. "I'm a fan of supersets and pairing up certain body parts so you can train them 1-2 times a week," he says. "If you have a good program laid out, you can cycle through higher weight and high volume."
3. CUT YOUR REST INTERVALS
Catching your breath for extended periods between sets isn't going to work if your aim is fat loss, says Alberta personal trainer Cody Ivey. While he's also a big fan of supersets, Ivey also doesn't rest more than 30 seconds between any set when he's leaning out.
4. FINISH WITH A KICK
While some athletes eschew cardio, that doesn't mean they don't integrate metabolic "finishers" into their resistance workouts. "What's worked for me in the last few years for fat loss has been adding in short, 5-10 minute finishers after my strength-training workouts 1-3 times per week," says Cappotelli. "A few examples are several sets of heavy farmer's walks, battling ropes, double-unders (jump rope), kettlebell swings, and prowler sprints, or a combination of those."
5. HIIT THOSE CARDIO MACHINES
High-intensity interval training, often called HIIT, not only burns a slew of calories as you alternate all-out sprints with easy recovery periods, but it's been shown to significantly boost post-exercise calorie burn for up to 24 hours.
"[HIIT] burns more calories in less time, which is ideal for people like me who work extremely long days," says Ivey. "Also, HIIT cardio can build muscle, and more muscle equals more calorie expenditure."
To ensure that high-intensity intervals don't gobble up circulating amino acids in your bloodstream intended for muscle repair and building, Ivey suggests a BCAA supplement such as MuscleTech's AMINO BUILD prior to training, especially if you prefer fasted morning cardio.
6. HIIT IT OUTDOORS
You can certainly use the treadmill, stair-climber, or elliptical in the gym to do high-intensity intervals. But, California physique competitor Jimmy Everett, recalling his old football days, prefers to HIIT the hills or gridiron. Not only does that allow him to take advantage of the great weather, but he finds it more motivating to train outdoors, far away from the monotony of cardio machines.
7. TIME YOUR CARB CYCLING
Cycling your carbohydrate intake, in which you reduce your consumption of carbs to fairly low levels—about 50-100 g per day—for several days, followed by a high-carb day, is a common approach in successful fat-loss programs.
For many athletes and bodybuilders like Everett, the high-carb day coincides with a leg day or heavy back day so the extra glycogen can be put to use powering through especially tough training sessions. If you cycle your carbs, time the higher-carb days to coincide with a heavy workout.
8. BEWARE OF HIDDEN CALORIES
If you enjoy a glass of juice with your meals or use it to mix your protein shake, watch out for the extra calories. While New York's Pulido suggests the occasional glass may be fine, he reminds you that liquid calories "aren't as filling as whole foods, which provide more volume."
According to research in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," 37 percent of Americans' total daily calories come from sugar-sweetened drinks, including sodas and fruit juices, yet these calories do little to make you feel full. If you crave something sweet, a whole fruit provides more vitamins, minerals, and fiber, plus you're less likely to eat additional foods because the volume is greater in your digestive system.
9. TRICK YOUR TASTE BUDS
Exchanging higher-fat foods for lower-fat alternatives is always an easy way to save on calories, but many fear that the lower-fat versions aren't as tasty. You might have trouble exchanging full-fat milk, for example, for its nonfat counterpart because the latter tastes a bit watery.
Try this trick: Use the nonfat milk for about three weeks, and then switch up to 1 or 2 percent milk. Suddenly that milk will taste creamier than the nonfat milk without having to resort to the full-fat version. And for each eight ounce glass, you'll save nearly 50 calories and six grams of fat.
10. SUPPLEMENT SMART
If you're cutting calories, especially from dietary carbohydrate and fat sources, your body is more apt to start using amino acids for energy, which is one reason why the majority of athletes we spoke with increased their protein intake while on a fat-loss program. Whey powders like MuscleTech's Platinum 100% Whey mix easily so can be consumed without a blender.
Every physique athlete knows the power of a good fat-burner, and the new Hydroxycut Hardcore Elite combines multiple fat-loss ingredients in a single proven product. Bolstered with caffeine, coleus forskohlii, L-theanine and other metabolism-boosting ingredients, it helps increase energy and focus, thermogenesis, and weight loss. While you should never expect a supplement alone to make you lean, a solid fat-burner can complement a smart fat-loss plan.
11. JUNK THE JUNK FOODS
"Remove all foods from your home you may be tempted to overeat, like snack foods and candy," says Cody Ivey. "Anything is OK in moderation, and a cheat here and there is fine. But, many people have a difficult time with temptation and moderation. This method works best for me; I do get a little 'snacky' in the evenings. If it's not around, I won't eat it."
12. TAPER YOUR CALORIES
If you're lax on your diet, Canadian personal trainer Opydo suggests a simple solution: taper off your calories as the day goes on.
"I find that, when dieting, when I eat the majority of my food during the day, I don't get as hungry toward the evening and I don't binge at night before bed."
13. LOSE IT FOR GOOD
If you're looking for the recipe for long-term success, the answer entails more than following a short-term dietary fix to lose a few pounds. How do you keep the weight off for good? By adopting the lifestyle.
"I just live my life around being healthy and active and staying optimistic, loving what I do," says 30-year-old Everett.
Obviously you'll be more successful if you're able to make permanent changes in your food choices, but few of us have the machine-like ability to resist tempting snacks when cravings arise.
"I'd say the most underrated aspect of losing fat is finding a nutrition plan that's sustainable," says trainer Cappotelli. "So many people go to extreme measures, cutting out carbs or going on a very low-calorie diet, which may work at first but is not healthy in the long run.
So many people think the key to fat loss is always less, but what most people don't realize is that eating enough food is just as important in maintaining a healthy metabolism in the long run."
14. DON'T SEEK SHORTCUTS
A number of fitness models and athletes confided there simply is no shortcut to success.
"There's definitely no secret to fat loss. It just takes good old fashioned hard work and dedication," adds Cappotelli. "Just like with anything, the keys are time and consistency. Results come by doing the right things day-in and day-out. It's making the right choices and sticking to your workout plan consistently, not looking for a quick fix or the secret formula to rapid fat loss."
"Bottom line is that there is no easy way out," adds Opydo. "There's no overnight recipe for washboard abs—the secret is consistency and effort. If you make the time and commitment to work toward achieving your fitness goals, eventually you'll get there!"
15. FIND A PARTNER TO PUSH YOU
Florida's Tricia Ashley gets a big lift from her boyfriend, who not only coaches her but provides plenty of motivation. Working out with a more advanced friend or significant other can provide a big boost. "I love working out with my boyfriend. He makes me move, keeps me focused, and pushes me when I'm tired," says Ashley.
"I love to work out with my fiancee," adds Hobbs, who competes in bodybuilding. "She motivates me more than anyone. And our lifting sessions seem to turn into competitions every time we train together, so we always push ourselves to the next level."
16. WHAT FAT-LOSS ADVICE IS THE MOST OVERRATED?
"The most overrated aspect of losing body fat is so-called miracle diets," says Opydo. "People are always looking for an easy way out without having to put in the time and effort."
"[If you don't know how to use a carb-cycling program effectively], cutting carbs is the most overrated," adds Ivey.
"Most people don't know how to maintain that kind of diet and don't know how to increase other valuable macronutrients. An extended calorie deficit slows the metabolism and can set you up for a future of dieting struggles."
17. What fat-loss advice is the most underrated?
"In my opinion, the most underrated aspect of fat loss is food choices," says Everett. "Everybody wants to lose body fat and look and feel better, but they don't want to eat healthy. We are always looking for ways around the good foods that are proven to work time after time."
"Many people avoid HIIT cardio for fear of losing muscle, but this kind of training actually builds muscle," adds Ivey.
"As far as underrated aspects of losing weight go, I'd definitely say that people don't utilize HIIT style training as much as they should," adds Opydo. "People tend to prefer steady-state cardio, but I find that HIIT training is where you'll see your body change the most."