As it’s cutting season for a lot of people I thought I would address one of the most common problems faced by fat-strippers at this time…
Are fat-loss stalls inevitable when cutting?
The short answer is NO.
The long answer is still NO, but only if you take a scientific, methodical approach to your cutting cycle.
Actually, not only should your fat loss not stop, BUT, it should APPEAR to speed up – more on this later.
Guys, you absolutely CAN keep losing fat week on week until you reach your goal of chiseled abs. It’s actually rather simple to do, but that doesn’t always mean it’s going to be easy, especially at the tail-end of the cycle. It’s when the going gets tough that the quitters quit, and the strong-willed march on to victory.
So, how do you take a scientific approach?
Firstly, you need to know EXACTLY how many grams of protein, carbs, fat and total calories you are consuming per day. So many people are taking a haphazard approach to cutting i.e. they simply ‘cut down’ on food intake and start adding in cardio. This is a terrible strategy!
When these people stall (and they inevitably do), they panic and further cut back on food intake. They’ll lose fat for another few days or a week and stall once again.
At this point they either quit, or crank up their cardio to INSANE, unnecessary, MUSCLE-WASTING proportions. This actually proves counter-productive. Their body slows its metabolism and from this point on, any fat loss is accompanied by a corresponding muscle loss. YIKES!
If they hadn’t quit by this point, they do now! And understandably so!
The first and most critical step here is to know your EXACT dietary intake when first embarking upon the cut. It is only through doing this that you can know with CERTAINTY what needs to change if and when fat loss slows.
On the exercise side, everyone should keep lifting and seeking progression in their workouts. However, your cut should NOT begin with a lot of cardio. I actually recommend new ‘cutters’ to perform NO cardio in their first week. On the 2nd or 3rd week they can start with 1 or 2 short 10-minute sessions at most.
Why? You WILL lose fat without it. The calorie deficit through diet and lifting is enough on its own.
I always tell people, “You need to have somewhere to go” when cutting. What I mean by this is that you CANNOT just go all-out from the get-go. Your cutting strategy needs to start off quite mild and actually INCREASE in intensity as time passes.
Imagine if you cut 1000 calories from your diet and perform 3 x hour long cardio sessions per week.
The body wants to keep you alive. It sees the above as a signal to SLOW your metabolism and PRESERVE energy. When your fat loss stalls in 2 or 3 weeks, where can you go from here?
- More cardio?
- Even less food?
You’re stuck in a rut and there’s no SENSIBLE way out!
When I’m trying to explain this to people I often tell them to visualize a staircase.
When you start your cut, you’re standing at the top. Each step down is a drop in body fat until you reach your goal body fat percentage, which is the floor.
The point is this: you MUST take one step at a time. A step could be…
- Small reduction in calories
- Small increase in cardio
- Drinking more water (if you hadn’t been hitting your target)
- More intense weight training – don’t slack just because it’s cutting time!
- Omitting artificial sweeteners from your diet
- Factoring in supplements that aid fat loss (only the ones that work e.g. omega 3 supplementation has been shown to increase fat loss, all other factors being equal)
Taking just one step at at time will produce ongoing fat loss. As progress slows you once again take another step down. Before long you’ll be at your goal body fat percentage and have a nice shiny six-pack to show for your efforts. 😀
Taking too many steps at once GUARANTEES that you’ll stall hard and end up running back to the top of that staircase ASAP. Being ‘too keen’ is a sure-fire way to ensure that you’ll never get that elusive six-pack.
Hey Mark, what’s all this about fat loss ‘appearing’ to speed up?
Well, as you approach and cross the 10% body fat mark (17% for women), fat loss DOES in fact appear to increase.
This is simply because a 1 pound fat loss will produce a more NOTICEABLE difference on a lean guy than a heavier one.
If a guy at 9% body fat loses 1 pound of fat he’ll notice quite a big difference in definition. His abs, chest, arms, thighs etc. will all appear more cut.
A guy at 20% losing 1 pound of fat will likely not notice much in the mirror but can rely on tape measurements and how his clothes fit. But so what! The point is, if you’re losing fat you’re getting closer to your goal EVERY SINGLE DAY! Take only step down that staircase at a time and you’ll get to where you want to go.
Guys, getting a six-pack is actually a MATHEMATICAL CERTAINTY when you do it right. As I say in the Total Six Pack Abs page….
….Your body actually WANTS to give up its fat stores?
Yeah I know, it may not seem that way sometimes but it’s TRUE.
THINK ABOUT IT…the only reason the body stores fat in the first place is to be USED AT A LATER DATE.
The problem is that the vast majority of people eat in a way that sends the WRONG HORMONAL SIGNALS to the fat cells; their bodies stay in fat-storage mode as they try desperately to run further, eat less, take fat-burning pills….uurrrgh! Enough of this!
You get it? Your body WANTS to give it up, you just have to work WITH it.
Taking more than one step at a time sends the WRONG signal, a threat to your survival if you will. Your body will counter this threat by slowing fat loss to a minimum.
Be Smart – one step at a time and your success is a 100% CERTAINTY!
Can I give you my free muscle-building workout?
Join thousands over the world who are packing on slabs of new muscle for free with Targeted Hypertrophy Training (THT)
Awesome Tips dude! I really Appreciate this site and you man. I been visiting the site everyday for the past couple of weeks and i tell ya i learn something new everyday. I also subscribe to your email blast(that’s how i got this article). Going to get the book in support of what you are doing for people. Keep it up dude, this site freakin ROCKS!!!
@Speed. Thanks man – always appreciate positive feedback.
another inspiring article mark! been following mans now religiously for 4 week now and every new article helps me keep on the straight and narrow. this is the longest i have really sat down and been determined to reach my goals. i will be purchasing tspa very soon! but at the mo mans is giving me great results! thanks again mark! keep up the good work!
An eye-opener. I’ve been stalled, literally, for 2 months at the same weight, and haven’t been able to shed fat. I started w/a bang (like you said), and had nowhere to go… but into a land of unreasonableness that I couldn’t live with.
So, now what…. cut way back, and increase intensity and cardio gradually?
That’s gonna be my plan, unless you suggest otherwise.
Thanks for the great information.
@Ste – great to heat man 🙂
@Bill. What you need to do now is stop cutting and go back to maintenance calories for 3-4 weeks. This will let your metabolism ‘reset’. From here you can employ the ‘step-down’ approach and lose fat continuously until goal. Hope that helps.
I’ve got a question relating to the idea that your metabolism slows down if you try to lose weight too fast.
“The body wants to keep you alive. It sees the above as a signal to SLOW your metabolism and PRESERVE energy. When your fat loss stalls in 2 or 3 weeks, where can you go from here?”
So if I do 3 hours cardio for a day and start losing a pound of fat a day. Let’s just say after 3 days my body goes into this “slow metabolism” mode.
From then on, even though I’m STILL DOING the same 3 hours cardio a day and still eating the same food, I’m now going to be burning through muscle at the same speed I’m burning through fat?
I don’t get it…I mean, why would the human body do that? Is it self sabotaging it’s muscle to make you weaker so you cannot possible exercise??
What’s the meaning behind this?
@FitNews, the body burns muscle as a SURVIVAL mechanism, i.e. a last resort to stay ALIVE.
Muscle is expensive, it requires a lot of calories to maintain, if you’re not getting enough calories then the body tries to use less calories, getting rid of muscle and using it for fuel is a good way to do this.
The body thinks energy is scarce so that unwanted fat now becomes a valuable resource which the body will try to hold on to.
Also if you’re not consuming enough protein the body will have to ‘recycle’ existing protein stores, i’e. muscle.
Remember your body isn’t trying to keep you in the best possible shape for your exercising, it’s trying to keep you alive. You need to ‘hack’ your metabolism to burn fat and build muscle.
Mark, good site, been doing the THT workouts for just over 2 weeks and really enjoying them. Been doing pure strength training over the winter followed by maintanance/cutting/HIIT over spring, now doing some mass building, haven’t felt soreness like this for a while!
And really good week on week progression. Thanks.
@Simon – great to hear!
@Fitnews – Firstly, you won’t lose a pound of fat per day (maybe you meant per week).
Fat tissue becomes increasingly precious as you lose more and more of it. The body WILL protect it if you go about dieting all wrong.
Your body will burn muscle tissue and if taken to extremes will actually eat internal organs in preference to your own fat tissue – scary!
You must remember that fat loss is hormonally regulated, calories don’t tell the whole picture because fat tissue isn’t the only place your body can get some much-needed energy.
Long-term low-calorie, high cardio, dieting will have a detrimental effect on leptin (and ghrelin) which control where your body is going to get those deficit calories from.
My book Total Six Pack Abs takes care of all this though 🙂
All the best,
Also originally meant to comment on the article, I came to the same conclusion regarding not going all out from the onset a couple of months ago before slimming down, although my rationale wasn’t as scientific.
My reasoning was simply that any small positive change (diet or exercise) will give a positive result so I can keep as many tricks up my sleeve as possible to pull out when results slow. Knowing myself, I knew that if I tried drastically cutting calories, doig HIIT 3 x week etc, I’d burn out pretty quickly so I built up slowly.
Interestingly the diet I’ve got into (similar to your MANS really), I’ve recently increased the amount I eat and REDUCED my cardio to concentrate on muscle building. Down to HIIT once per week, high intensity body weight circuits once per week and the fat is still dropping off, pretty amazing stuff.
Thought I would add my input on your article.
I am a certified personal trainer with about 20 years of experience under my belt.
Having said that, your article really nailed the cutting guidelines to a T… Excellent work!
If I might add a few additional points that I have found helpful while cutting.
– Make tracking your nutrients easier by using an online site. I use the one below, as it has a solid database of the type of food I eat.
– Timing of protein intake, for me this has been a key discovery for keeping the cutting phase humming along. I have had good results with taking in 10-20 grams of protein every 3-4 hours. I am small, so you will need to carefully calculate your intake based on your nutritional data.
Once again thanks for the quality article.
I read you everyday!
I’m a female that is using your website as guideline for weight loss and muscle tone.
I would like to thank you for the explanations regarding the two subjects and how you get rid of the ‘myths’ surrounding these two areas.
Thanks a bunch!
Thank You, Marie 🙂
hey Mark, thanks for posting.
very informative article
Thanks Mark and Simon, it certainly makes sense that fat would become more precious to our bodies than muscle, but I had just finished reading Fitness Black Book’s article on starving yourself releasing HGH which stops muscle from catabolizing and promotes fat loss, so I was confused.
I’ve never been a believer in this HGH stuff, so I’m more likely to believe your theories, though FBB does have scientific studies and some very convincing writing.
Would you say that “starvation mode” over powers the HGH release caused by starving yourself?
My wife is interested in following TSPA however is not interested in any weight training, how should she go about structuring a cardio routine? Should she follow the standard format of TSPA or will she need to implement extra sessions to compensate for the lack of weight training?
@mic. Tell her to multiply her starting number for dietary fat (first formula in the book) by 0.9. Keep her fat and protein the same. These are her starting numbers.
Tell her to start with 2-3 x 10minute cardio sessions per week. Adjust numbers and cardio as necessary as weeks progress, you know the drill by now.
If she’s doing it to get a six-pack she will at least have to do the abdominal routine in the book.
P.S. tell her she made a good choice 😉
Thanks for the info, will let you know how she goes.
I totally agree with your post, but I had one question. You say to cut artificial sweeteners, and I am not opposed to that I just wanted to know why.
Thanks in advance!
Great advice…I really think that it’s important to take things one step at a time, whether your goal is to build muscle or burn fat. When you try to make too many changes to your lifestyle at once, it’s a surefire way to sabotage your long term success. Figure out your plan of attack, simplify your plan and implement the plan with consistency this really is the key to achieving your fitness goals!
Great article….keep it up…
I am cutting at the moment, using this ‘staircase’ method of gradually making slight improvements weekly (improvements being reduced calorie intake, move toward lower GL foods, increase in caffeine, more cardio etc) while maintaining workout intensity and keeping daily protein intake high.
Seems to be going well four weeks into my twelve week plan. I started at around 15-17% body fat, taking weekly photos to track the progress. Hope to ripped before Christmas!
Hi again. I was wondering about this. If it takes me 5 days for the fat burning to kick in, and then on the 7th day I spike the insulin and carb up, Is it going to take me 5 days everytime? Or does our bodies adapt and make the switch quicker? Is there a way to make it go quick in the first week?
@Ethan. I talk about, and give evidence for this in ‘Total Six Pack Abs’. You actually don’t come out of fat burning during or after the carb-up, which is good news.
Also, if you do stop low-carbing for weeks at a time, yes the body will make the switch faster the second time.