Kirk Miller is one of the UK’s leading fitness models and a Physique Elite master trainer. He is based in Coventry, West Midlands.
The most important thing for me to stress straight away is that nothing about my prep is set in stone. Everything I do depends on the constant feedback I am getting from my body, the shape I’m in to start with, and the time I have to be shoot-ready. If I am losing fat and looking and feeling good, then I’ll keep doing what’s working. I’ll never change something for the sake of it.
1 Keep lifting heavy
One of the most important lessons that I’ve learnt over the years getting ready for shoots is that I need to keep the weights heavy as I get leaner. It can be very tempting to reduce the weight as the body fat comes off because you’re in a calorie deficit and tired and the reps feel harder, but I’ve found that keeping the weight on the bar as high as possible helps me maintain more muscle mass. You will lose some muscle tissue as you get leaner, that’s inevitable, but still lifting heavy also keeps my mind focused on every rep of every set so I can really concentrate on getting the maximum muscle contraction.
The mind to muscle connection is so important in this game, and I think that refusing to drop the weight too much tells my body that it needs to keep hold of as much muscle as possible and keep growing. It’s not scientific at all, but it installs in me the best mentality to really attack every set.
That said, in the final few weeks before a shoot I will stop doing some of the more intense set-extending strategies, such as forced reps and rest-pause sets. My body-fat levels are getting very low and I’m on less calories so I’m not in the best physical condition to push my body any harder than is absolutely necessary.
2 Keep calories high
I keep my calorie intake as high as possible for as long as possible. Firstly, my body type is ectomorphic so I deal with carbs very well and I need them because they allow my to keep hold of more muscle mass. Secondly, losing fat on as many calories as possible, especially at the start of my prep, is the best way to go because it allows me more room to manoeuvre as the shoot gets closer and I need to accelerate fat loss.
Dropping from my maintenance level of calories to a crazy low level overnight will work at first, but once I stop losing body fat I have nowhere else to go. It’s a simple mistake that so many people still make, but you need to remember that successful fat-loss takes time and effort.
3 Make smart adjustments
When I hit a fat-loss plateau the first thing I do is increase my workout volume so I burn more calories through weight training. Only once this plateaus will I introduce cardio. And only once that begins to stall will I start to drop calories. I keep daily protein intake at around 280g, regardless of whether I am bulking, maintaining, or cutting, and will now drop carbs before I drop fats. It supports better hormone function and I don’t feel as low as I did when I used to cut fats first.
The thing that surprises most people is that even at my lowest calorie intake I will still be eating a minimum of 250g of carbs per day. If I don’t eat enough I won’t be able to perform in the gym as well as I want to. People often do ask my how can I eat some much food – just come and watch me train. I’d rather eat more and train harder to get ripped, over eating less and backing off the intensity.
4 Use cardio for clarity
Whether I use cardio really depends on how long I have to get ready for a shoot. If it’s 12 weeks I probably won’t need it. If it’s six weeks then I will incorporate some early morning fasted power walks. The real reason for doing it is that I use this time to appreciate all the positive people and things I have in my life, and to mentally plan the rest of my day. I’ve found it incredibly beneficial for getting focused and motivated and any fat I lose from doing it is really just a bonus. I never do any high-intensity cardio because the way I lift ways is the most effective form of HIIT there is. And as someone who can struggle to maintain muscle mass because of a fast metabolism, I really don’t need to do it.
5 The final few days
In the week before a shoot there are some final tweaks I use to look even more ripped, such as depleting then reloading on carbs and manipulating water intake, but these steps are really the final little tricks of the trade you can only apply if you’re already shredded. You need to be lean and vascular for these tweaks to have any effect; they will do nothing if your body-fat levels are 10%.
6 Keep some perspective
Last year I dieted hard for three months without a single cheat meal, let alone a cheat day. I was on it day in, day out, without any respite. At the end of the diet I was maybe a tiny percentage-point leaner than I had been after my last prep, but I was absolutely miserable for 12 whole weeks, so was it worth it? Absolutely not, and I’d never take that approach again. It’s important to remember that getting lean isn’t about life and death. Life’s too short to make yourself that unhappy for such a sustained period of time.
And it’s not just about how you feel. What we do is one of the most selfish sports in the world, and you can very easily negatively affect your friends and family when you’re tired and sore and hungry. Get some perspective and remember that we do this because we should love it, not because we feel like we have to suffer.