Brandon Lilly is an elite powerlifter and strength coach, having competed in bodybuilding, strongman and powerlifting, in which he has a 2,237lb personal best. He is the author of The Cube Method and 365Strong. He is based in Richmond, Kentucky.
1 Work out frequently
If you want to maximise fat loss your body has to be in motion, and working hard for an increased amount of time compared with when you are ‘bulking’. For most I like to recommend a twice a day split: one session of cardio, and one of weight training. If this is impossible, and let’s be honest, for the busy individual it can be, just double up and do both in the same session, but the weights must be done first, and you cannot allow yourself to skip the cardio.
Training in this fashion puts your body into an elevated metabolic rate, and you get a huge boost in calorie burning when this happens. When I say cardio in the offseason I mean a nice leisurely walk of 20 to 30 minutes to keep the heart and blood pumping. When our goal is to burn as much body fat as possible we need to understand that employing HIIT, hard bursts of energy expenditure, along with lower expenditure intervals, are best. I have my clients do treadmill work with 15-second sprints then 45 seconds fast walk for 12 to 20 minutes, and also work in prowler pushes, stadium stair runs, flat out sprints, and jumps for time. All of these put the body into a high working threshold in a short amount of time.
2 Keep sessions short and intense
When designing a programme for fat loss you know you are in a caloric deficit already, so you have to modify your plan to be as intense and do the maximum amount of work in the minimum amount of time. The workouts should be increasingly difficult as the cut goes further and further along.
Weight training at this point needs to be completed in 30 to 45 minutes. We are not looking for marathon sessions here: the goal is staying big and strong whilst burning fat. Understanding the reduced calories and the design of the workouts, you’d be on the fast track for overtraining, injury, and stalling out. Anyone that knows me knows I go as hard in the gym as anyone, but I have to be aware of what my goal is, and knowing that intensity can sometimes turn to insanity, I give myself limits to follow, and I stick to them religiously.
Also, based on what I’ve observed with numerous clients, the level of performance drop-off is high enough towards the end of a 45-minute session that doing anything beyond that becomes pointless. Yes, there will be that one in a million guy that can train forever, but the chances are that you’re not him.
3 Train fast
One area that gets very little coverage in the training world is what is referred to as workout density. This refers to the amount of work you can do in a given time frame. When I was at Westside Barbell we could accomplish eight working sets of over 80% in about 10 to 12 minutes because of the pace, condition and familiarity we had with training with one another. Something that annoyed me beyond belief was after leaving Westside the same workout would take up to 45 minutes because people weren’t as focused, the atmosphere was more laid back, and so on.
You need to make the work happen. Don’t fall into a lull because of your training partners – make them follow your lead. The harder you work in a shorter amount of time, the more calories you burn. Don’t think so? Go walk 100 metres, then sprint it! The point I am getting at here is on your main movements – squat, bench and deadlift – you need to rest 30 to 45 seconds between sets. For my accessory work I like to do supersets with opposing muscle groups, such as biceps and triceps, so I can crank out for supersets with no rest until my fourth set is complete. Talk about a burn, both from a muscle and calorie point of view! This is the prime area for fat loss, and maintaining muscle and strength.
4 Be brutal
If you have read my Cube Method you’ll know I have three squat variations on squat day, three bench variations on bench day, and three deadlift variations on deadlift day. Why? Because they pack on tons of muscle and use tons of energy. I know even in a strength phase that triceps kickbacks aren’t going to help me bench that much, so I build my triceps with heavy bench and heavy triceps work. The same applies now for fat loss. While we won’t be training as heavy, we need to pick exercises that get maximum result.
Pick moves that complement the big three lifts, but also really work you hard. Bench accessory lifts can include skull crushers, behind-the-head dumbbell presses, and French presses; squat work can include leg presses, lunges and step-ups; and deadlift work can include rows, lat pull-downs and dumbbell pullovers. These are just some examples of great accessories to each lift that will recruit maximum muscle firing, and work your ass off at the same time. Just because you are taking in less calories doesn’t mean you can’t demand that your muscles work hard! This is what ensures that they stay big and strong.
5 Eat smarter
I could tell you that training hard alone is enough to blast away every last inch of fat, but I’m not going to lie to you. If you are not putting the same amount of work in the kitchen as you are in the gym then you’re ultimately not going to get where you want or need to be. So many people do most things right but then fall off the rails because they can’t keep their diet on track and give in to temptation. That’s just mental weakness. Commit people!
Here’s what you need to know: when putting together any diet plan my starting point for calculating calories is 15 calories per pound to maintain current weight. Because we want to cut fat in this plan, let’s start at 13 calories per pound.
For a 200lb guys that’s 2,600 calories, and our starting point proper, with the obvious reminder than when following a cutting plan you need to focus on getting all your daily calories from clean foods. No more BS excuses, and no cheating on your plan. Aim for 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight, with around 20% of total calories coming from fat. Your carb intake is wherever is left over after you’ve worked out the calorie intake of 1g of protein per pound, and 20% of calories from fat.
Take your total daily calorie target and divide them out between six meals on training days, and five meals on rest days. Eating frequently will keep your metabolism kicking. Follow this plan until the scale stops moving, and then reduce one calorie per pound until your weight loss stops, and then repeat until you get down to 10 calories per pound.
If you get to this point you will be in extreme condition, and very few ever get to this number unless they are stepping on a bodybuilding stage. If you do get to this stage I recommend that your alternate meals with carbs and fats. So on rest days meals one, three and five are made of protein and fat, and meals two and four are protein and carbs. On training days the extra meal is in the form of a post-workout protein and carb shake.